Fantasia 2019: The Wonderland (2019)

The Wonderland (Birthday Wonderland, 2019)

Birthday Wonderland

Director: Keiichi Hara

Voice Cast: Mayu Matsuoka, Anne Watanabe, Kumiko Aso, Masachika Ichimura, Nao Toyama, Keiji Fujiwara, Akiko Yajima

The Wonderland, originally titled Birthday Wonderland, is a 2019 Japanese animated film about a girl who goes to pick up her birthday gift at her aunt’s store and ends up unlocking the portal to the world beyond and is tasked with being the savior of this mirror world.

Right from its beginning, The Wonderful is all about its vibrant and colorful background and its relaxing everyday. Akane’s biggest problem was being accepted at school by her classmates doing the most mundane things like wearing a hairpin. For her, this made her life difficult and everyone else’s hard. Its a good way to start the movie especially as this foundation takes us into the mirror world called World Beyond and she has now been adorned with a Momentum Anchor that makes her move forward even when she doesn’t want to and seen as the Goddess of the Green Wind, the person rumored decades ago that will save them from a major crisis by curing the Prince.

Japanese animation has always seem to flourish when it takes the environmental elements into their stories. For a film that focuses on the world beyond losing color as their main danger due to the lack of water, it still manages to keep it colorful and cute. To emphasize it, there are contrasts of dangerous enemies with dull metallic armor and black clothing with the bright colors used for everything surrounding the group heading towards the castle. While others have buffalo stampedes, The Wonderland has stampedes of huge fluffy sheep and then a scene of Akane and her aunt Chii, who joins into the journey, lying on them (a parallel of My Neighbor Totoro perhaps), and the journey continues into different environments that they go through filled with shades of red, pink, orange and many other colorful elements. There are so many details here and the little magical elements also add into the charm of the visuals especially in the landscape.

The characters also are quite charming, if not still pretty familiar in design. Akane and her aunt Chii create a contrast as well. While Akane needs the Momentum Anchor to move her forward to be more courageous facing different situations, Chii is more about embracing the adventure and being prepared and taking chances. Its this contrast that makes it funny and rather inspiring to watch as over the almost 2 hour film, Akane finds her strength and also embraces her ability to try and save the world because of seeing the beauty between this mirror world that had kept a more old-fashioned way of living in comparison to her reality of modern advanced technology. These two may bring a lot of joy to the film. In fact, the movie definitely falls into the cute elements more especially as the sidekicks are little humans who are a little silly but also very adorable.

Filled with talking cats, underwater aquariums and colorful environments all around, The Wonderland is exactly as its title implies. Even with the crisis that the world faces, it still manages to keep it light-hearted. The visuals and a sweeping soundtrack that sometimes matches to the sounds in the scene and other times, creating the environment for the scene adds a lot to a fairly generic story. Running at 115 minutes, it does feel like it drags a little in the middle part despite all the charming locations giving it a boost. The story could have been better executed as a whole but its cute and colorful and its hard to be a little enamored by it.

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Ultimate 2000s Blogathon: Lilo & Stitch (2002) – Starry Traveler’s Road

Next up to join us in the Ultimate 2000s Blogathon is my long-time childhood friend, gardening buddy and Battle of Ingredients co-host, Phoebe from Starry Traveler’s Road. Over on her blog, she shares talks about her mommy things like making crafts and watching children movies with her little one while using her own background to talk about life in Montreal and other event recaps as well. There’s a lovely variety of stuff there.  This year, she chooses to review 2002’s Disney animated feature Lilo & Stitch and talk about her little girl’s reaction to the film.


Starry Traveler and Bun Bun review: Lilo and Stitch (2002)

lilo and stitch

A big thank you to Drew and my Battle of Ingredients co-host Kim for hosting the Ultimate 2000s blogathon! This is the third year for Miss Bun and I watching a movie and reviewing it together. Time really flies as she is more willing to stay put to watch a movie and uses more words to describe her train of thought!

To be honest, I have no idea what to watch from 2000s other than Lilo and Stitch. I know there is a lot of obsession around Stitch in general with all the merchandising, but the only thing that I remember about the movie was “ohana means family” which I thought was an important message. I have to be honest that I rely on my gut feelings about any movies rated G rather than looking up other parents’ online ratings before watching considering I like to discuss the movie and other content with Miss Bun as we go.

A Hawaiian girl adopts an unusual pet who is actually a notorious extra-terrestrial fugitive.

Directors: Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders

Writers: Chris Sanders (based on an idea by), Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois

Stars: Daveigh Chase, Chris Sanders, Tia Carrere

IMDB

I started off the movie by reminding Miss Bun that this is not real and to not copy what she will see on the screen. She was very spooked by the gloomy beginning where we meet Stitch as Experiment 626 and was scared until it landed on Hawaii. When Lilo misbehaved by being aggressive and exchanged “bad” words with her friends, I asked Missy if it was nice and she shook her head with a no. When Stitch destroyed things, I asked again if that was nice and she said no. I am pleased because it shows me that she understands what is good and bad behavior. I took the opportunity to also discuss anger and other emotions that were felt throughout the movie by all the characters.

Miss Bun was not big on the movie until… she saw Stitch playing the ukulele.

Her eyes lit up and her mood improved as she loves watching anything playing guitar/ukulele. Missy asked a lot of questions about the emotional Aloha Oe scene.

I tried my best to explain things to her while holding her tight, but it did feel a bit emotional. During another action-filled scene, she freaked out and cried for Daddy during Gantu’s chase to capture Stitch and Cobra, the social worker, trying to take Lilo away. He calmed her down so we could finish the movie. I think she liked the ending (spoiler) where Stitch was allowed to stay with Lilo and Nani.

As a mother, I find there are many difficult topics to discuss such as how to explain what aliens are, the social worker and why Nani raises her younger sister Lilo after their parents passed away. I did think Miss Bun handled it well even if Lilo and Stitch is probably better for school-aged children. This is our thoughts on this movie. Hope you enjoyed it!


Thanks a lot to Phoebe for her review of possibly one of my fave Disney animations in the 2000s (because let’s be honest that there were a few that fell short).

To see a full list of blogathon entries to date, head over HERE.

Pete’s Dragon (1977)

I reviewed Pete’s Dragon for the Ultimate 70s Blogathon as part of a double feature, but I never do double features for Disney films due to the segment I’m working on for Baking Through Disney. Baking is going to happen soon but meanwhile, I will keep these Disney film reviews going as I get back into the baking routine. I will however jump right back to watching the movies in order of release starting the next one, which should be Bambi.

With that said, let’s check this one out. If you already read it in the double feature, its the same one posted again here with slight additions.

Pete’s Dragon (1977)

Pete's Dragon

Director: Don Chaffey

Cast: Sean Marshall, Helen Reddy, Jim Dale, Mickey Rooney, Red Buttons, Shelley Winters

An orphan boy and his magical dragon come to town with his abusive adoptive parents in pursuit. – IMDB

Mary Poppins opened up a world of blending animated characters with real characters and to be fair, there’s a few segments in Pete’s Dragon that calls back to it, particularly the song and dance of I Saw A Dragon which has somewhat of a Chim Chiminey where the bar replaces the rooftop choreography. Its amazing how its taken so long to catch up with Pete’s Dragon and really not know too much about it. Pete’s Dragon is a fun little adventurous tale filled with friendship, family and packs in a decent amount of laughs and emotions, along with a lot of nice musical pieces.

Pete's Dragon

Being a fan of Mary Poppins, the appeal of Pete’s Dragon struck me almost instantaneously especially when Pete’s Dragon, Elliott is around quite a bit and he is designed fairly friendly with tufts of pink hair and wings contrasting with this green body which actually makes Elliott one of the most charming parts. Pete and Elliott’s friendship is an odd one and its also why for a good part of the film, no one actually believed him and took Elliott as something of an imaginary friend sort of deal, which of course, it wasn’t. In fact, Elliott actually parallels a little like Mary Poppins instead he is a dragon that helps kids in need and then moves on when his job is done. Which is pretty much what Mary Poppins does but she is much more there. Drawing comparisons to Mary Poppins a lot here because there was a strong sense of similarities between the two, however, being similar to Mary Poppins is a not a bad thing, in fact, its what makes Pete’s Dragon so much fun to watch.

Pete's Dragon

There is also a variety of other characters. The first being the lady who takes Pete in in times of need with his somewhat eccentric drunk dad who gets into a ton of shenanigans. The dad is played by Mickey Rooney which is quite a funny role. Aside from that, there are the bandit family who are the supposed adopted family of Pete who pretty much tries to capture him back so that he can be their slave. These guys are like the odd and somewhat stupid family who is trying to be mean. It is quite suitable for kids because perhaps for kids they will feel somewhat scary but we all know that they are never going to feel too threatening. And then, finally there are the con artists in the magician or healer character who travels around with his cures with his sidekick. All he cares about is money and he turns into the guy who tries to get Elliott. Because of both the dangers to Elliott and Pete, we can see their friendship as well as the adventure part be fit in tightly into this story and it works to its advantage.

Pete's Dragon

Pete’s Dragon is filled with musical segments. It definitely has a lot of really catchy songs. Some energetic and others soothing to listen to but all in all, rather positive messages all around. In fact, I’d like to think that Pete’s Dragon takes a look at finding a place to belong and not losing hope for a better tomorrow. Its a hopeful film and one that teaches a lot about friendship and just emotions in general as Pete leaves for the big world and faces the situations no matter how scared he actually is about not finding someplace to be and what to expect next. And that is essentially what makes Pete’s Dragon a nice little family film.

Now that I’ve seen the original, I wonder how the 2017 version would be especially probably with CGI for Elliott although I do think that part of the charm of the film was the drawn animations for Elliott.

Ultimate 70s Blogathon: Snoopy, Come Home (1972) by Starry Traveler’s Road

We’re in the final week of Ultimate 70’s Blogathon! Kicking off this week is one of my segment co-hosts, Phoebe from Starry Traveler’s Road with her review of 1972 animated Peanuts film, Snoopy, Come Home. If you don’t know Phoebe, she is my Battle of Ingredients co-host and her blog focuses on parenting, from movies, books and events reviews and recaps that she shares with her little one along with some nice craft ideas. Head on over and check it all out, but first, check out her review in her Movies with Bun Bun style!

Movies with Bun Bun: Snoopy, Come Home (1972)

Snoopy Come Home

Hello everyone! Mega big thank yous to my awesome Battle of Ingredients co-host Tranquil Dreams and Drew for hosting the Ultimate 70s Blogathon! The last two Blogathons were fun so here I am again with my Bun Bun for a new movie review!

I am a huge fan of Snoopy for as long as I remember. I have all kinds of collectibles from a pretty battered tin box to a chess board with Peanuts characters as chess pieces. Given this is an Ultimate 70s Blogathon, I decided to show her one of my favorite movies that I watched again and again on those heavy and shiny LaserDiscs called Snoopy, Come Home.

I am lousy at summaries, so I will go straight to IMDb’s:

Snoopy travels to see his sick former owner and then feels obliged to return to her permanently. – IMDB

I watched many Snoopy movies as I adore the dynamic between Snoopy and Woodstock. I am not sure why this one stands out, but I guess the music (the whistling and The Best of Buddies song) and the fact Snoopy tried to go back to his old owner played a role in all this. Also, the catchy and grave voice emphasizing on “No Dogs Allowed” is funny too –

It took me a few tries before Bun Bun settled down on watching the movie with me. One conclusion is, it may be a little bit long for a toddler’s attention span. Bun knows that I like Snoopy as she pointed to my mug when she saw the character (Yes, I drink from a Snoopy mug that says, “Relaxation is an ART. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE”, very fitting for a mom.) Instead of climbing on furniture and banging on my keyboard like last year, she was asking “whatz this?” or commented “Oh no!” every now and then, so I had to occasionally stop and explain what is going on to her. The movie took FOREVER to finish… it was quality time as we watched it twice together. The first time was cut into two due to her bedtime (obviously tantrum ensued) and we watched it in one shot the second time around while eating brunch.

There are actually a few things that I realized from re-watching this movie as an adult and mom. Societal norms have changed a lot over the last 30-40 years! I stopped and commented a lot to bun bun during this segment:

I told her how tying thick ropes and pulling hard were not the way to treat animals, especially a dog. Not to mention spanking a dog or anything/anybody is not a nice thing to do as it hurts; therefore, she needs to play nicely!

Every time bun bun saw a crying scene, she pointed and said, “Oh no!” It is nice to see she understands emotions and other things as she progressively learns more about the world.

This is it for our movie review! Hope you enjoy the rest of the Ultimate 70s Blogathon!

Double Feature: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016) & Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

And we’re back with another double feature!

This time its a Netflix  watch paired with a rental. We’re looking at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows and Kubo and the Two Strings. I’ve been looking forward to watch these two so its nice to have them done and over with.

Let’s check it out!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016)

teenage mutant ninja turtles out of the shadows

Director: Dave Green

Cast: Megan Fox, Stephen Amell, Will Arnett, Laura Linney, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, Pete Ploszek, Alan Ritchson, Tyler Perry, Brian Tee, Brad Garrett

After facing Shredder, who has joined forces with mad scientist Baxter Stockman and henchmen Bebop and Rocksteady to take over the world, the Turtles must confront an even greater nemesis: the notorious Krang. – IMDB 

If you missed my review of the first Teenage Mutant Teenage Turtles review, check it out HERE.

To be fair, if you didn’t read the review of the first movie, I enjoyed it as in I like the entertainment factor of it all. I’m always a fan of the shut off your brain and just go on the ride type of movie. Its also the reason why some of my favorite franchises that I’d gladly sit down to watch in the background is Resident Evil and Fast and the Furious. I even like most of the Transformers movies. With that said, I’m still a little iffy with Megan Fox as April O’Neill however, I’m a huge fan of Stephen Amell even after I am currently at least 2 seasons behind from Arrow. This one had a cast that I’m overall a little on the fence about since I don’t quite get the Tyler Perry hype as he’s never seemed to do anything I’ve liked (at least nothing off the top of my head). Now that I’ve laid out more than enough foundation, Out of the Shadows was pretty okay.

teenage mutant ninja turtles out of the shadows

It was definitely entertaining and action-packed. The story was pretty normal with nothing incredibly unique although I did like the fact they had the serum to make those villainous beasts which was the warthog and the rhino. I’ve always like their kind of odd humor of these films and for what it is, there are some pretty awkward moments but it still works to a certain level. To be honest, I liked the Stephen Amell and the turtle moments a lot. We always see the Turtles hiding away and for those of you into video games, Injustice 2 just launched them as superheroes in a way and I feel like this movie did a little something to make them known as the turtles who protect their city in the shadows like vigilantes which you know, is how most superheroes start out in origin stories.

With all that said, this is no masterpiece and I think I enjoyed the first movie more, however, there are some redeeming aspects here that made it worth my while. I like turning off my brain so I enjoyed it for its humor and its entertainment factor.

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

kubo and the two strings

Director: Travis Knight

Cast: Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes, Brenda Vaccaro

A young boy named Kubo must locate a magical suit of armour worn by his late father in order to defeat a vengeful spirit from the past. – IMDB

Kubo and the Two Strings had so much praise upon its release (and even before). Was it all completely merited? Maybe I wasn’t as big of a fan as a lot of people out there however, Kubo and the Two Strings is above everything incredibly charming. Its art and character design and the music are all so beautiful. The story is a tad generic however, the colors and the use Kubo’s magic was, for lack of a better word, magical. It was hard to not fall in love with everything on screen. Perhaps its the origami and the really nice use of the musical and storytelling elements of it all, I felt a bond with the story. However, the story did have a few pacing issues for myself.

kubo and the two strings

Aside from that, the standout of this was also the voice cast which included Matthew McConaughey and Charlize Theron both great actor and actress respectively and it might be the first time (at least that I’ve heard them) in animated films and only hearing their voices. The voice cast here was really nice with some impressive names. Aside from the two above, there was also Ralph Fiennes and Rooney Mara who both did a fantastic job as well in their more villainous roles.

Is it an incredible film? Maybe not. However, it is a beautiful film visually and artistically. For that, its absolutely worth a watch.

This wraps up the double feature!
Have you seen these movies?

Double Feature: Astro Boy (2009) & When in Rome (2010)

And we’re back with another double feature!

In the neverending quest to catch up with Netflix and diminish the outstanding titles on my Netflix list before they vanish from selection, I’ve decided to choose movies primarily already on the list whenever I watch something which lead me to trying out a new way than the normal alphabetical approach and that’s to choose a common factor between films, mostly director or actor/actress in whichever role. I honestly don’t know how long this can go for but from the preliminary test, I have at least 20 movies drafted in so we’re in for a ride. I’m liking this new way as it gives variety.

This time will be a lovely Kristen Bell double feature with Astro Boy and When in Rome!

Astro Boy (2009)

Astro Boy

Director: David Bowers

Voice Cast: Freddie Highmore, Charlize Theron, Nicolas Cage, Donald Sutherland, Bill Nighy, Kristen Bell

When an android replica of a boy is rejected by his aggrieved creator, he goes off to find his own identity in an adventure that would make him the greatest hero of his time. –IMDB

While I can’t hate on animated films. Astro Boy really is quite average. Back when this was announced, I had my doubts and I was also travelling when it came out so I never caught it in theatres. A lot of the story here is quite generic and its not very exciting. However, the art is quite nice plus the world is very pretty with lots of colors. The characters are brought alive by its immense talent behind the voices. Kristen Bell does a great job but we also have Bill Nighy as the scientist and Nicolas Cage as the dad and of course, Donald Sutherland as the villain. During that time, Freddie Highmore had a lot of these kid roles and he does a fantastic job as Astro Boy. It may be average but in all its generic and predictable moments, it still has a few decent fun and funny moments.

 

With that said, Astro Boy could be a fun movie for a younger audience. It has a lot of science-y fun and brave kids and takes in the parents angle. Plus, its not terribly long running at about 90 minutes which is always nice because it keeps the pacing decent.

When in Rome (2010)

When in Rome

Director: Mark Steven Johnson

Cast: Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Anjelica Huston, Danny DeVito, Dax Shepherd, Will Arnett, Jon Heder, Alexis Dziena, Kate Micucci

Beth is a young, ambitious New Yorker who is completely unlucky in love. However, on a whirlwind trip to Rome, she impulsively steals some coins from a reputed fountain of love, and is then aggressively pursued by a band of suitors. – IMDB

I’m pretty forgiving with romantic comedies. They are really just silly and funny sometimes. There has been widely a shortage of good ones and When in Rome honestly doesn’t do much for itself. Its quite ridiculous in parts and I spent a lot of time rolling my eyes at everything. However, When in Rome has some charming characters. Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel are incredibly fun to watch together and separate. The premise is really where things are a little odd and shaky. Just take a look at the cast, Danny DeVito, Dax Shepherd, Will Arnett are all fantastic as the enchanted lovers chasing after Kristen Bell and they offer some pretty comedic moments. Its always a good time to watch Dax Shepherd and Kristen Bell as they always do these roles and can get the whole not into each other thing really well. When in Rome just seems like it doesn’t have anything special about it other than its charming cast. But then, you can always watch this charming cast in other movies they’ve done better roles for making this one seem not so appealing.

Overall, Astro Boy and When in Rome fall in the very average range. I’m still a fan of Kristen Bell and its definitely not her issues that makes for the downfalls of these two selections.

Have you seen Astro Boy and/or When in Rome?
What is your favorite Kristen Bell film?

Horror Marathon: Monster House (2006)

We’re in the final week of the horror marathon! Maybe its a little late to slow down the gears and change our pace to something less serious and thats why I decided that it was time to finish Monster House. In that sense, I had to rewatch it completely because I had started it ages ago and then somehow the DVD got lost somewhere at my mom’s before my move so I never ended up finish it. Now that its landed on Netflix, I decided it was a good time to give it a go, plus all those intense films from brutal gory traps to creepy clowns was getting to me.

Let’s check it out!

Monster House (2006)

monster house

Director: Gil Kenan

Voice cast: Mitchel Musso, Spencer Locke, Sam Lerner, Steve Buscemi, Catherine O’Hara, Fred Willard, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Lee, Kevin James, Jon Heder, Kathleen Turner

Three teens discover that their neighbor’s house is really a living, breathing, scary monster. – IMDB

Maybe for kids this movie would be a scary selection, however for myself, it was a fun movie which some cool moments but never truly scared. Monster House is an entertaining animated film set on Halloween and includes a haunted house and a creepy house that is alive along with a cranky neighbor. These kids are suspicious about it all and are the only ones who believe that the house is evil and are determined to prevent any kids from getting caught in the trap. Best friends DJ and Chowder along with a girls scout Jenny end up taking up the mission in their own hands. While them and the house are the main characters of the story, we also saw the goth babysitter and her boyfriend.

Monster House

Just looking at the voice cast list up above, there are some names that definitely pop out and having them on the team here really does add to it even if some of these roles are quite short. The kids are also done quite well. There’s a level of believability to it. Monster House follows all the moves of the making of decent animated Halloween story however, it lacks that element that makes it truly soar. However, Monster House will get a few chuckles in there with some lighthearted fun.

Monster House

Where Monster House does really well is in its visuals. The house coming to life always makes for a fun time. At the same time, the best moments are when they are inside the house as we don’t know much about why this house is alive. I do wish that they had spent a lot more time with shenanigans and other traps and flesh out the backstory for the house and perhaps it would be more catchy. It would be a cool possessed home story with lots of danger. It felt that they didn’t quite manage to hit that potential . Some of the best moments are after they manage to get into the house.

Overall, I’m a pretty neutral with Monster House. I remember liking it more the first time I had seen it (or the little bit I did see) however watching it again now, I feel like it doesn’t quite expand on where it should. There are some fun laughs here and there and the voice cast is fantastic. The story could have been a little better to give it a bit more excitement. But then, it is a story for kids so I guess it works in that term.